November in the hills with Chris Horne
Myrsine salicina, Toro, Toro
This endemic tree is one of the eleven New Zealand members of the widespread genus Myrsine. Some members of the genus are trees, others are shrubs. In the October Tramper, toro’s relative, M. australis was described.
Origin of the names
Myrsine comes from the Greek word for ‘myrtle bush’; salicina comes from the Latin word salicinus meaning ‘willow-like’, referring to the shape of the leaves. Willows are in the Salix genus. The common name of the plant is toro. There is no English translation for toro.
Distribution and habitat
Look for toro in coastal to lower montane forest throughout Te Ika a Māui/North Island from Te Paki in the Far North district, and the north-western Te Wai Pounamu/South Island as far south as Hokitika. Toro may form a major part of the canopy along stream sides.
Toro is a tree up to about 10 m tall, with a trunk up to 60 cm diameter, and stout upright branches. The bark may be smooth or rough, and dark red to almost black. The leaves, mostly near the tips of the branchlets, are 7-18 cm long x 2-3 cm wide, thick, leathery, smooth, flexible, and often have maroon spots. They gradually widen from the lower end to the usually blunt upper end, although sometimes the end is pointed. They stick upwards, and when young are reddish-yellow. The leaf margins are smooth and flat or slightly curved downwards. The midrib is prominent on the underside of the leaf. The leaf stalks/petioles are stout, flattened, and up to 10 mm long. Look for a striking feature of toro - the way the first young leaves on the tips of the twigs are strongly curved backwards, pale, and scale-like*. Toro’s veins are hard to see, but on the underside of the leaves, the oil glands, a series of longitudinal streaks, are a useful feature to help you to identify toro.
- Māpou/M. australis - see October Tramper - shares this feature. It sometimes hybridises with toro.
Toro’s small flowers, 3-5 mm across, may be yellow, pink or purple. They appear clustered on woody twigs, mostly below the leaves. The flowering season is from August to January. The berries, which bear a single seed, are 8-9 mm long. They ripen from red to orange to bright purple, between September and May.
What other long-leaved native trees grow around Wellington?
While toro’s leaves lack teeth, those of rewarewa have many prominent teeth, and those of hīnau usually have numerous small teeth.
Thin pieces of toro’s wood are springy, so do not snap readily. Iwi in the Rotorua rohe/area used a straight piece of a branch of toro for the lowest and most important part of the handle of a rohe/hand net for catching small fish.
Where to find toro around Wellington
You can see toro in the Tararua Range. It is uncommon in the Rimutaka and Aorangi ranges, and in Wellington’s reserves, e.g., Wellington Botanic Garden, Otari-Wilton’s Bush, and Johnston Hill Reserve. The paucity of toro may be because it is heavily browsed by possums